In my experience, a great many people who lie keep on lying until they are faced with indisputable proof that they are, in fact, lying. Doctors, athletes, journalists, college professors, cops, politicians. Every profession has liars. Such people, who have lied successfully over and over, will keep doing it until they are stopped, often in a very dramatic and public way. Probably none of us who has had a plagiarized book manuscript sent to us for review ever forgets the experience of uncovering the lie and, when the shock passes, of wondering where it all started: and all of us in teaching eventually have to deal with cheating, a paper purchased off the internet, or one of the other cumbersome, time-consuming ways some students find to not do their own work.
I am willing to wager, after the most recent fraud to rock the publishing world, that many celebrities who lie come to believe the lie as a part of an image and a self that is a tissue of lies and truths concocted by others: a certain track star and her power-hitting pal who supposedly believed they were being injected with flax seed oil, for example (why would someone inject you with flax seed oil, pray tell?) Then there are those who want to become celebrities by any means necessary, who also come to believe they are telling is the truth until they are presented with such overwhelming proof that their stories crumble. What then follows is the justification for why these wanna-be’s (who have already spent the advance, thank you) thought it would be okay to lie, something that may be a particular feature of literary liars, who pretend to a social and cultural mission that professional athletes or people pretending to be plastic surgeons have a difficult time claiming. Margaret Soltan, at University Diaries has one of her most hilarious commentaries ever on the latest invented memoir scandal, this time at Riverhead Books. The faux memoirist, Margaret B. Jones (pictured above left), who claimed to be a part Native American woman raised by a foster family of African-American gang bangers, was turned in by her (white) sister. The sister from the white suburban family she actually grew up in.
Wouldn’t you love to be a fly on the wall at their next family gathering?
Who can be fooled by the fake memoir? Well, just about everybody, it turns out, even in a post-James Frey world. Try writing one and see. Apparently Riverhead sent Jones a six-figure check and invested large sums in all the expenses attendant to publication and publicity of a new blockbuster, but they claim never to have met her face to face. Like Margaret Soltan, I find this very strange.
But who am I to judge? I am the idiot who has personally known two — count ‘em, two — people with Munchausen Syndrome who pretended to have the same tragic and fatal disease featured in the 1970′s teenybopper hit, Love Story. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. And I have known any number of students who have cheated in one way or another, denied it for weeks up until the moment we were in the disciplinary hearing and I started reading from the book they copied from, and then they said — “OK, I did it.” A few years back there was one of my favorite Presidents, who lied about his relationship to “that woman,” until he was has confronted with indisputable proof, and then he said some version of “Oh — is that what you mean by ‘sex’? Well you should have said so.”
The faux memoir writer is, of course devastated. She has clearly has a modern college education because her reason for having impersonated a drug dealing member of a drug dealing foster family, who has all sorts of hairy adventures with all sorts of hairy people — all of whom are made up — is that she has met a lot of people like them, and she wanted their voices to be heard. Can the subaltern speak?
Gee, I dunno. But my advice is: next time, meet the subaltern face-to-face before you put a big check in the mail and get her book reviewed in the New York Times.